Era of the City State
THE ERA OF THE CITY STATE
- In this section, you should become familiar with the words Indus River,
Harappa, Shang China, China, Yellow River, Mandate of Heaven, pictographic
script, cosmogony, theogony, city-state, secular, and blood- relationship.
- You should also understand the typical stages of the process by which
neolithic villages developed into secular city states and some of the reasons
why this occurred.
- Finally, you should have considered how this development may have affected
the average men and women of the times.
The communities of the Urban Revolution differed from the larger neolithic
villages out of which they had grown in many ways, but two were to be
particularly important for the course of the future. The first was the
development of a new basis for community. The extended family had been the
biological offspring of the head of the group and so the members were united by
ties of blood. Members of a hunting band of clan traced their descent from some
common ancestor and so felt that they, too, were related by blood. On those
occasions when clans consolidated into a tribe, they probably had, as modern
clans have, some legends about the beginning of the world to explain their
special relationship with each other. Each of the scattered neolithic
communities likely had a deity from whom it traced its origin, and the worship
of that deity acted to affirm community solidarity.
This was not possible with the advent of the Urban Revolution, since these
villages and their inhabitants were absorbed into a new central settlement, and
their ties of kinship became of less importance in this new and larger group.
One of the tasks of the professional priesthood that emerged was to provide a
cosmogony and theogony that explained the origins of
the universe and the birth of the hierarchy of gods that ruled over it, and to
provide a rich and impressive ritual exalting those gods. From what we know of
the early cities of Sumeria, the rulers convinced their people to construct
large pyramidal temples, called ziggurats, in the center of the
city and to proclaim that one of the ruling gods or goddesses made their home
The logic was simple enough. If the god lived in your city, then that god
ruled your city through his priesthood, and you and your neighbors were that
god's chosen people. The ties of kinship were not eliminated of course, but
existed within this larger and more potent association.
The limitations of blood-kinship were transcended at this point, and there
was no longer a close limitation on the size to which a human community could
grow. in the course of time, they grew upon the boundaries of their lands
impinged upon those of neighboring urban centers, and still they grew. The ruler
of the city, the servant of the god, was expected to provide for the god's
people, and this led to full-scale warfare between the new urban centers. It
became necessary for the priest king to collect, arm, and train young men as
soldiers, to direct the people in surrounding their cities with strong defensive
walls ad in building fortresses to protect their lands. One might imagine that
such wars were implacable affairs, since the warriors were not fighting simply
for their lives or property but for the life of their god, the embodiment of
their entire community.
It may have been in order to mitigate the savagery of such warfare but, in
any case, the nature of such conflict began to change. The victors did not
destroy the temples and idols of the defeated, but to allow them to continue to
worship their traditional deities, although acknowledging the superiority of the
deity of their conquerors. The priest-kings also had to alter their character.
Up to this point, they had held the title of ishakku, "steward of
the god", but they could no longer be simply the steward of their city's god
when they were ruling several cities each with its own deity. In the
inscriptions of the time, their title becomes that of lugal, or,
more simply, "king." With this development, the political organization of the
city-states became secular and, to a great extent, independent of
religious or kinship associations. There was no longer a maximum size to human
social organizations, and an age of empires was now possible.
It is important to note that this development was not universal. Such empires
arose in the Near East with the Akkadians and
Babylonians, somewhat later in the Nile River valley
of Egypt, in the great cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro of the
Indus River valley, and perhaps still later yet with the
Shang and Chou of the Yellow River
valley of China. Much of the rest of the world continued
to exist in small city states or tribal groups.
REQUIREDSince the study of the history of major world
civilizations begins with the Urban Revolution in which they arose, it would be
useful for you to review each of these areas. For this reason, we will continue
the survey of the early civilizations begun for the last class. You should try
to get an overview and enough information to be able to compare these societies.
Of course, it wouldn't hurt if you also learned enough to be able to define and
discuss the terms and questions listed above in the section on LEARNING
Continuing with the University of Minnesota modules, you may cover Harappa
in the valley of the Indus River, and the Shang
civilization of the Yellow River of China.
RECOMMENDEDThe civilization of the Indus River Valley are
perhaps the least well-known of the Old-World cultures, but Harappa is an extremely
attractive and growing site that may help you to overcome that neglect. Vedic Culture
deals with the fundamental concepts of the religion of ancient India and offers
an insight into the development of its culture. The Library
of Hindu History offers a sampling of Indian literature to which we shall
return from time to time.
Shang China is not yet well represented in web sites, but the University of
Wisconsin's course -- Art History 370 -- offers a wide selection of Shang art. China
is useful as a guide to the chronology of early Chinese civilization.